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Ecosystem of vanishing lake yields valuable bacterium

In the salt flats near a slowly vanishing lake, a team of researchers have found never-before-seen bacterium that could clean up some of humanity's pollution.

In three scientific papers currently being written, Brent Peyton, a Montana State University chemical engineering professor, his students, and collaborators are describing the unique qualities of Halomonas campisalis, a bacterium Peyton discovered in 1995 near Soap Lake, Wash.

At the time of discovery, Peyton worked for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Wash., one of nine U.S. Department of Energy labs. The laboratory wanted to develop a treatment to remove nitrate contaminants from alkaline and saline radioactive wastewater. Such a treatment could also be used to clean-up wastewater from fertilizer and explosive manufacturing plants, which is 10 to 15-times saltier than the ocean and laden with polluting nitrates.

Peyton hoped the salty ecosystem of Soap Lake might be home to a bacterium that could live in such high-salt waters and also find nitrates appetizing.

Soap Lake is one of only 11 known meromictic lakes in the United States. The water in meromictic lakes separates into layers of differing mineral concentrations. The upper layer of Soap Lake is a little less than half the saltiness of the ocean, but more than 100-times saltier than river water. The bottom layer is more than twice as salty as the ocean and more than 700-times saltier than river water. These two layers are thought to have remained unmixed in any significant way for the past 2,000 to 10,000 years. The conditions of Soap Lake are considered so extraordinary the National Science Foundation designated it a "microbial observatory."

Near Soap Lake are salt flats. Water seeping through these flats finds its way into the lake, carrying salt with it. It was in these flats Peyton collected some mud in 1995.

In the lab, he tried to make something grow and somethin
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Contact: Brent Peyton
bpeyton@coe.montana.edu
406-994-7419
Montana State University
17-Oct-2006


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